In historical times, around 567 BC it was the settlement of a Celtic tribe, the Bituriges Vivisci, who named the town Burdigala, probably of Aquitanian origin. The name Bourde is still the name of a river south of the city.
In 107 BC, the Battle of Burdigala was fought by the Romans who were defending the Allobroges, a Gallic tribe allied to Rome, and the Tigurini led by Divico. The Romans were defeated and their commander, the consul Lucius Cassius Longinus, was killed in the action.
The city fell under Roman rule around 60 BC, its importance lying in the commerce of tin and lead. Later it became capital of Roman Aquitaine, flourishing especially during the Severan dynasty (3rd century). In 276 it was sacked by the Vandals. Further ravage was brought by the same Vandals in 409, the Visigoths in 414, and the Franks in 498, beginning a period of obscurity for the city.
In the late 6th century, the city re-emerged as the seat of a county and an archdiocese within the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks, but royal Frankish power was never strong. The city started to play a regional role as a major urban center on the fringes of the newly founded Frankish Duchy of Vasconia. Around 585, Gallactorius is cited as count of Bordeaux and fighting the Basque people.
The city was plundered by the troops of Abd er Rahman in 732 after they stormed the fortified city and overwhelmed the Aquitanian garrison. Duke Eudes mustered a force ready to engage the Umayyads outside Bordeaux, eventually taking them on in the Battle of the River Garonne somewhere near the river Dordogne. The battle had a high death toll. Although Eudes was defeated here, he saved part of his troops and kept his grip on Aquitaine after the Battle of Poitiers.
In 735, the Aquitanian duke Hunald led a rebellion after his father Eudes's death, at which Charles responded by sending an expedition that captured and plundered Bordeaux again, but did not retain it for long. The following year, the Frankish commander descended again to Aquitaine, but clashed in battle with the Aquitanians and left to take on hostile Burgundian authorities and magnates. In 745, Aquitaine faced yet another expedition by Charles's sons Pepin and Carloman, against Hunald, the Aquitanian princeps (or duke) strong in Bordeaux. Hunald was defeated. His son Waifer replaced him, and confirmed Bordeaux as the capital city (along with Bourges in the north).
During the last stage of the war against Aquitaine (760–768), it was one of Waifer's last important strongholds to fall to King Pepin the Short's troops. Next to Bordeaux, Charlemagne built the fortress of Fronsac (Frontiacus, Franciacus) on a hill across the border with the Basques (Wascones), where Basque commanders came over to vow loyalty to him (769).
In 778, Seguin (or Sihimin) was appointed count of Bordeaux, probably undermining the power of the Duke Lupo, and possibly leading to the Battle of Roncevaux Pass that very year. In 814, Seguin was made Duke of Vasconia, but he was deposed in 816 for failing to suppress or sympathise with a Basque rebellion. Under the Carolingians, sometimes the Counts of Bordeaux held the title concomitantly with that of Duke of Vasconia. They were meant to keep the Basques in check and defend the mouth of the Garonne from the Vikings when the latter appeared c. 844 in the region of Bordeaux. In Autumn 845, count Seguin II marched on the Vikings, who were assaulting Bordeaux and Saintes, but he was captured and executed. No bishops were mentioned during the whole 8th century and part of the 9th in Bordeaux.
From the 12th to the 15th century, Bordeaux regained importance following the marriage of Duchess Eléonore of Aquitaine with the French-speaking Count Henri Plantagenet, born in Le Mans, who became, within months of their wedding, King Henry II of England. The city flourished, primarily due to the wine trade, and the cathedral of St. André was built. It was also the capital of an independent state under Edward, the Black Prince (1362–1372), but in the end, after the Battle of Castillon (1453), it was annexed by France which extended its territory. The Château Trompette (Trumpet Castle) and the Fort du Hâ, built by Charles VII of France, were the symbols of the new domination, which however deprived the city of its wealth by halting the wine commerce with England.
In 1462, Bordeaux obtained a parliament, but regained importance only in the 16th century when it became the centre of the distribution of sugar and slaves from the West Indies along with the traditional wine.
Bordeaux adhered to the Fronde, being effectively annexed to the Kingdom of France only in 1653, when the army of Louis XIV entered the city.
Rue Sainte-Catherine in 1905
The 18th century was the golden age of Bordeaux. Many downtown buildings (about 5,000), including those on the quays, are from this period. Victor Hugo found the town so beautiful he once said: "Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux". Baron Haussmann, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux's 18th-century large-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasi-medieval Paris into a "modern" capital that would make France proud.
In 1814, towards the end of the Peninsula war, the Duke of Wellington sent William Beresford with two divisions, who seized Bordeaux without much resistance on 12 March. Bordeaux was largely anti-Bonapartist and had a majority that supported the Bourbons, so the British troops were treated as liberators.
In 1870, at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war against Prussia, the French government temporarily relocated to Bordeaux from Paris. This happened again during the First World War and again very briefly during the Second World War, when it became clear that Paris would soon fall into German hands. However, on the last of these occasions the French capital was soon moved again to Vichy. In May and June 1940, Bordeaux was the site of the life-saving actions of the Portuguese consul-general, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who illegally granted thousands of Portuguese visas, which were needed to pass the Spanish border, to refugees fleeing the German Occupation.
From 1940 to 1943, the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana) established BETASOM, a submarine base at Bordeaux. Italian submarines participated in the Battle of the Atlantic from this base, which was also a major base for German U-boats as headquarters of 12th U-boat Flotilla. The massive, reinforced concrete U-boat pens have proved impractical to demolish and are now partly used as a cultural center for exhibitions.